Images of Wally Morris reflected around her, haunting her from every angle, mercilessly mocking the way she looked. There was no place to turn, no escape from the glaring truth.
She shook her head and laughed. What could she have been thinking? The denim culottes and red plaid blouse that had looked so jaunty on the lanky mannequin in the store made her five-foot frame look choppy. Worse, while she tried assiduously to watch her weight, the outfit emphasized an unflattering spread thing that was happening with her hips.
‘Adding insult to injury, she’d spent her morning gluing Mother’s Day gifts and dispensing snacks to the four- and five-year-olds in her class and then had no time to put herself back together before picking up her mother-in-law, Tillie, for her hair appointment. Now, from where she stood, leaning against one of the pink interior walls of the Resplendence Salon & Spa, one of the swankiest beauty salons in Northern New Jersey, her image reflected back at her from at least ten mirrors. She sighed and comforted herself with a complimentary muffin as she waited for Tillie’s seven-stage process to be completed.
Wally was only there because Tillie had a broken right leg and couldn't drive. She'd insisted, no-matter-what, she had to keep her hair appointment today, because if she didn't get her perm right away, a little over four weeks before her granddaughter’s wedding, her hair would not be perfect on that very important day.
As mother of Debbie, the bride-to-be, Wally had her own cause for high anxiety. The gray roots asserting themselves into her Sable Mist hair made her appreciate that she had an appointment of her own to keep, tomorrow, at a different salon, where special attention would be given to the troublesome left side of her chin length hair which flipped up instead of under.
The slight evidence of her roots seemed magnified under the lights, as she surveyed all the smiling women around her being transformed by the various hairdressers, manicurists and facial artists. Shifting away from her own reflection, she surveyed the activity.
Her eye was caught by the young man who was sweeping up clumps of hair. He pushed the broom into a corner and started to remove the lipstick stained coffee cups that were left all around. The busboy, or whatever a person who did this young man’s job was called, wore head phones and his body jerked to a rap beat instead of swaying to music. Wally tried not to stare at the safety pin in his eyebrow and glanced away, only to find herself looking at the ear of one of the hairdressers. There must have been twenty silver hoops working their way up and around the top of her ear. A slender chain linked her ear to a stud in her nose.
If Wally wasn't so busy, she wouldn't have minded going to the salon with Tillie. It seemed that there were a million things to take care of this afternoon, such as calling the florist and the photographer and the caterer and the band, just to fill them in on the latest changes that Debbie had decided to make.
The outer door opened, interrupting Wally’s mental checklist, and a woman wearing a business suit, anklets and sneakers came in. Crystal, the receptionist, whose hair was a light, obviously artificial, shade of cherry, and whose make-up was chalk white, with black lipstick that matched her nails and gave her lips a pucker shape, smiled broadly at her. It transformed her frightening countenance completely--underneath all that makeup she was quite pretty. “Janis;” she said, using her first name as all the other employees did on almost all of the customers, “back so soon?”.
Janis frowned uncertainly. “I, uh . . .” She started to turn back toward the door.
“Did you, like, forget something?” Crystal prompted. “Your coat?”
That question struck Wally as odd, since it was a gorgeous spring day outside, and at least seventy degrees. It seemed unlikely that Janis had forgotten a coat.
Having nothing better to do, since Tillie's hair was still being put onto the perm rods, Wally took a closer look at the woman standing there. She thought she detected an English accent. Janis, who looked like she was in her early forties, shook her head at Crystal’s inquiry. “My hair . . .”
The chalk-faced woman studied Janis’s brown hair. “It looks very nice.”
“It isn't what I wanted,? said Janis, confirming Wally?s suspicions about her accent. ?I told him, several times and very specifically, but he didn't listen. Now look.” She turned to show the whole coif.
Wally looked too, although she couldn't say exactly what was wrong. The hair was really short in front, with tiny, undersized bangs commonly found on five-year-olds. But what struck Wally as odd was how asymmetrical the style was, very daring, some would say striking, although the term jarring was more apt.
“Logan, could you come here please?” Crystal said quietly into the phone. She hung up and smiled again at Janis. “Logan will be right with you. He's the owner and he'll fix, uh . . . It'll be okay.”
Janis nodded. There were tears in her eyes. “I told him not to cut my bangs so short, but he did. I don't understand that. And I don't understand why he left one side long and made the other side so short. He said he did it because I have an uneven chin, but so what? He said he left the back like this to offset my . . .” Here she gestured with her hand, as if there was some huge thing on her nose, which was not, in Wally's opinion, unusually large. It was, however, natural, not like some of the tiny noses that came out of some doctors' offices. “What does he think I was here for, plastic surgery? I only wanted a hair cut!”
Crystal smiled, somewhat unconvincingly. “Can I, like, get you a cup of coffee?”
Janis stopped gesturing and wiping her eyes long enough to shake her head. “I only wanted a trim.” She turned to Wally as if looking for a sympathetic ear. ?I can?t understand this place. First I have to get used to saying the name of the town as Gross Venor, which is totally wrong, and now this! I have a good mind to tell my husband that we are moving back to London?
Wally knew that many people thought that the name of the town was mispronounced. But there were several towns like that in the area. After all, Bogota, New Jersey, was pronounced buh-Goat-a. But that didn’t explain the hair cut. She smiled at Janis and shrugged.
Logan arrived at the reception desk and assessed the situation. His dapper appearance was enhanced by the white physician's jacket he wore open, emphasizing the starched open collar of his shirt and his many heavy gold chains. The dark hairy chest underneath looked positively unruly in comparison to the blown and sprayed carefully styled salt-and-pepper hair of his head.
He assumed a position of superiority. “May I help you?”
“My hair!” Janis shouted. “Look what he did to my hair!”
“Who cut your hair?” said Logan, in a half whisper, as if encouraging Janis to lower her voice.
Janis looked around and spotted the offender. She gestured at him with her hand, while he remained, stiff backed, facing away from her. “Garth. I thought it was okay when I left, until I saw it in the mirror of my car when I was going back to work. I mean, he seemed to say it was good, and I didn't really look because he was making such a fuss about how terrific it was, but look at it!”
“We'll fix it right up,” said Logan, as he glared across the room at Garth. Following his gaze, Wally saw a handsome thirty-something man, with long bleached hair on top of his head and brown hair shaved close to his head around the bottom. It occurred to Wally that with his lean muscular physique and board flat stomach, evident under his tight, black tee shirt, he could be on the cover of one of those Harlequin novels that Tillie loved. Except Harlequin men didn’t usually sneer.
As Logan guided Janis past Garth and all the other operator stations to the back of the salon, he passed an elderly woman with a cane and nearly pink hair. She did not pause to let the two people pass. Instead, they had to press themselves against the corridor wall to let her get by. Janis avoided looking at Garth as they stood facing his station, but he, on the other hand, made a face at her. Wally wondered if his boss saw that.
A short time later, a door closed behind Wally and she realized that Logan and his dissatisfied customer must have gone around the back of the salon and along the other corridor to a cubicle directly on the other side of the wall that she was leaning on. She supposed that made sense. The hall, which went all the way to the back of the store, near the outer rear entrance, followed around in a U-shape past the spa rooms and back toward the reception area. The cubicle could have been reached more easily by going around the front of the salon, but Wally presumed that Logan hadn't wanted to walk teary-eyed Janis past the people sitting in the lounge waiting area. One woman, who had been filling out one of the lengthy applications that new clients were asked to submit, had already picked up her purse and left. If Janis had gone the other way, there was no telling how many more escapees there might have been.
The noise level in the salon rose as the people beside her realized the confrontation was over. Now, as they went back to their own conversations, Wally heard snippets of what they said. “Did I tell you I got it done?” someone said.
This was from the people directly on the opposite side of the counter from the chair that Tillie sat in. The hairdresser, Jordan, was a man with a straggly ponytail, very unstyled looking, and he was talking to a prematurely gray woman whose hair he was cutting.
“Yes, I said I would and I did it. I got the tummy tuck. Do you want to see?”
The woman nodded eagerly. Jordan turned the chair she was sitting in and faced her. “You are not going to believe this, and there is no scar.” He lift his tee shirt, revealing his midriff. “Look, it's all gone.”
Jordan's stomach was right on the woman's eye level and she had a close look. “Wow, that's amazing.”
“It's still a little swollen,” he said, pulling his tee shirt down. “And it hurt like heck.” He gestured his head in Garth's direction. “He thinks I'm crazy. Like it's any of his business.”
The woman made sympathetic noises. After a few more minutes, while Jordan cut the front of her hair, she spoke again. “What happened with that guy?”
“He said he would move in.”
“He needed a place and I offered. He said yes.”
Standing behind her, Jordan studied her face in the mirror. “I got everything all ready, and then he called and said he was taking a place with someone else.”
“Oh, I'm so sorry.”
“Yeah. It was too bad. I was gonna feel him out, see if he was like, interested. But I guess not.”
“Wally?” Tillie called. “I need help.” Tillie’s head was swathed in cotton and plastic, but her cheery face showed that she knew that her daughter-in-law had been eavesdropping.
Wally jumped, embarrassed. “Okay. Let's get you turned.”
Tillie's hairdresser, a lovely woman named Eunice, who wore full false eyelashes and lots of eye shadow, pressed the release to lower Tillie's chair. Wally helped her stand up, and handed her the crutches that were leaning against the wall. “Just take her over to that chair,” said Eunice, pointing at a chair underneath a contraption which resembled nothing short of a medieval instrument of torture. “That will help your perm along,” she explained, after seeing the look of skepticism on Tillie's face. “It's new.”
Wally caught a whiff of the solution used to change Tillie's straight hair into curly hair. It smelled like perfumed rotten eggs, not significantly different from the solutions that Wally's late mother Judith had used for years. That odor, mingled with all the other smells in the salon, formed a pungent mix as Wally helped Tillie over to the chair.
Ordinarily, Tillie was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, getting to the hairdresser in her own car, which, although she was eighty-three, she drove quite well. That was impossible now, however, since that incident with the overflowing washing machine, the three senior citizens, and the stairs. Luckily it was a clean break, and with any luck, she'd have the cast off the week before Debbie's wedding.
The long awaited event, when Debbie Morris, by that date Esquire, would marry Elliot Levine, also Esquire, would be perfect, Wally thought. Everything was nearly set. The dresses were almost ready, including Debbie's sister Rachel's matron-of-honor dress, and Rachel's little girl Jody's flower girl dress. Elliot's parents were due up from Florida in another week, and the final arrangements would be made. They were wonderful people, and Wally was sure that Debbie would never have in-law problems.
Wally counted herself among those lucky people who didn't have in-law problems. Her father-in-law had been a true gentleman, and Tillie was warm and loving. Taking care of her was a privilege, even though there were a million other things to be done. Tillie had never turned Wally down when she needed help, and Wally wouldn't turn her down now.
A ding of the timer indicated that Tillie, or at least her hair, was fully cooked. Eunice came over and together she and Wally got Tillie over to the sink to have her hair rinsed. After a new solution was put on to neutralize the first one, and Tillie was back under the dryer, Wally allowed her attention to wander.
The salon had become more crowded, with people in almost every chair. People were having facials, pedicures, and manicures as well as work done on their hair. One person had evidently sent her hair alone, because a stylist was working hard on a wig. The busboy was going from station to station, replacing used towels with clean ones. An elderly woman asked him to get her a bagel when he had a chance. She called him Dakota.
Wally felt she was in the way and went to stand against the wall again. From that spot it wasn’t hard to listen in to another conversation. This one was between another woman Wally knew and her hairdresser. Wally had once gone to that hairdresser, a tall blond with big brown eyes, and knew that she went by the name of Marigold.
“She's just got out of the hospital last week,” said Marigold. “I'm surprised she's back.”
“She's been through this before,” said the black-caped woman whose hair was being painted with a dark dye.
“This time I think it was because of him,” said Marigold.
“You mean Garth? I thought they broke up long ago.”
“You’re right, Irene, they did, but they were trying the let's-be-friends thing. He said he was kidding when he told her she was fat. But let me ask you this. How many brains does it take to know that you don't tell someone who has been fighting bulimia that she's fat? Some friend.”
Wally felt a thud on the wall behind her and shifted uncomfortably. She was getting tired of standing there, but there were no available chairs to sit in, even under a dryer. She looked at her watch, and realized she still had a long time to go. Maybe she could get away for a few minutes, if Tillie was seated somewhere and didn't need her for a while.
There was another thud, which left her wondering what was going on in that consultation room, but she decided it was better not to think about it. Janis had come out some time before, looking marginally better but with a big smile on her face. Maybe some other haircut disaster was being rectified behind closed doors. “I wonder who is being rescued this time,” Wally said.
“What did you say, dear?” asked Tillie.
“I just wondered who was in the consultation room making all that noise.”
“I didn't hear anything,” said Tillie, who often didn't, due to failing hearing. “Did you, Eunice?”
Tillie's hairdresser shrugged. “I don't hear much of anything. I try to mind my own business.”
Wally had a momentary sense of rebuke, just as the timer went off again, indicating that it was time for Tillie's hair to be rinsed. As they pulled out the rods, Wally decided to take a little walk as soon as she could. Tillie's silvery hair would need to be set, and dried, a process which would take over an hour.
Several people passed them as she slowly led Tillie back to Eunice's chair. Many people were waiting in the lounge area, drinking their coffee, and other people walked purposefully all over the place. Deliveries arrived, some having to be signed for, and the phone never stopped ringing. Poor Crystal was pulled in six different directions, but, to her credit, she smiled through most of it.
The Morrises had to wait for the changing room so that Tillie could change her blue getting-a-perm smock for a pink having-a-set one. Her silvery hair was a lovely color, so she never needed a black getting-hair-color smock.
By the time they got back to the chair, Tillie was positively tired. “I haven't walked much since I broke my leg,” she said. “Everyone has been doing all the walking for me.”
“You rest while you're under the dryer,” said Wally. “I'll be back in a little while.”
Wally repeated what she had said, louder.
“Okay,” said Tillie. “I won't go anywhere.” She smiled at her own joke.
Wally smiled back, and scooted away. If she hurried, she could get those calls made, or maybe buy something for dinner. She rounded the corner and started on her way to the back entrance of the salon and the parking lot. Suddenly she heard screams.
“Another bad haircut?” she said to Crystal, who was attempting to rush past her. Crystal did not respond, but Wally was convinced she saw a trace of a smile on those blackened lips.
Once Wally got to the center of the commotion, all of her plans to do errands evaporated, cut short by the continued screams of a woman who was staring into the consultation room at the grotesque face on the newly deceased body of Garth Barkley.